The news wasn’t conveyed with the sense of alarm one might expect regarding a player who is averaging 21 points per game.
About 10 minutes before the Mattituck High School boys basketball team’s bus left for its game at Southold High School on Friday, Tuckers Coach Paul Ellwood received word in an “oh-by-the-way” manner, that Tom Ascher would not be playing that night. The senior guard, who is the team’s leading scorer, went home after school with a stomach virus. Ellwood said the late notice was given as if Ascher would be missing a practice and not the eighth annual Southold Invitational championship game.
“It was amazing, though,” Ellwood said, recounting the notification he received. “You got a guy who’s averaging  points a game. [You would think] everyone would be like, ‘He’s not here,’ running up to me. No one said anything, and no one said anything in the locker room. They weren’t worried. I was a lot more worried than they were. They don’t care. They just think whoever’s on the floor is going to do a good job.”
An Ascher did board the team bus, though. Steve Ascher, Tom’s twin, not only showed up and played, but he was selected as the tournament’s most valuable player for the part he played in helping Mattituck win the tournament for the first time since 2003, when the invitational was created. Steve Ascher’s 17 points helped the Tuckers beat the Mount Sinai Mustangs, 54-41, for their third win in as many games.
Steve Ascher said his brother gave him some tips via text message. They evidently helped.
If Tom Ascher is a scorer, what is Steve Ascher?
“I just try to help out the team,” Steve Ascher said. “Whatever works.”
Ellwood said Steve Ascher is a solid player in his own right, who can play any of the guard positions.
“He did a good job,” the coach said. “He had a lot on his shoulders tonight. He was the shooting guard, the point guard, the press-breaker and logged a lot of minutes.”
Ellwood said there was a time in the third quarter when Steve Ascher hit a bit of a dry spell as far as his shooting was concerned. The player looked over to the coach. Ellwood said: “I told him: ‘You’re our only shooter. You have to keep shooting them.’ ”
Despite missing the game, Tom Ascher was still named to the all-tournament team, as was Michael Guzzardi, who was Mount Sinai’s leading scorer with 18 points. Mount Sinai’s record was evened at 1-1.
The funny thing for Mattituck is that while it lost a player, it also gained a player at the same time. The game marked the return of Connor Davis, who had missed Mattituck’s first two games with a strained right hamstring. Davis, the team’s first-string point guard, entered the contest with 1 minute 53 seconds left in the first quarter. The senior, who rode a stationary bike behind the team bench to keep his hamstring from tightening, scored five points in about 16 minutes of playing time.
“I took it easy today,” said Davis, who had only two practices since Nov. 27. “I was a little nervous. I haven’t been running a lot, so I didn’t know at full speed what it was going to be like.”
Afterward, Ellwood said Davis looked better than he expected. “I didn’t know what Connor was going to have tonight, so I didn’t think we’d get much out of him,” Ellwood said. “I was kind of worried how our offense was going to work without our two best offensive players, at least on the perimeter.”
If nothing else, though, Mattituck has shown that it can win without one of its starting guards. The Tuckers went with their third different starting lineup in as many games. They started three forwards — Cody Huntley, Yianni Rauseo and Tom Sledjeski — while Steve Ascher and Mike Mangiamele ran things in the back court.
Still, Davis said it is important for a healthy Tom Ascher to return to action. “Every person on this team is a vital piece to our puzzle and once we lose one person, it kind of gets out of sync for a while,” said Davis.
Mattituck scored the first 16 points of the game and rarely looked in trouble of losing the lead. The Tuckers led by 11 points at halftime and by 11 after three quarters.
Rauseo contributed 13 points to the victory, despite missing practice the day before with a stomach virus.
“He wasn’t feeling close to 100 percent,” Ellwood said. “You could tell. He was pale.”
Davis was a ballboy for Mattituck when it won the Southold Invitational in 2003, so he knows what it means.
“The first in a while,” he said. “It’s a proud moment.”
It was also a proud moment for Steve Ascher when he was presented with the MVP award, the first time in his life he has been accorded such an honor. Later, somebody remarked how funny it was that one Ascher turned in an MVP performance in the absence of another Ascher. Steve Ascher, referring to his brother, said, “I’m going to thank him for that.”